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God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful.Have mercy on us
Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God.Have mercy on us
Over the last few days, a number of us have gathered here in the church and pray or our church and its future during and after the General convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
We use a set of prayers that have come to us from the website of a group called the Anglican Communion Network. But in reality it is much older than the internet.
For it is a prayer to our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The words of that prayer are as old as the universe. They literally connect us to infinity. They are as close as we can get to the vastness and intricacy of our Lord God. The Triune God…the 3 and 1 God
Every single Sunday we repeat them like they were a second thought… We baptize in the name of God, Father Son and HS…The priest blesses in the name of God, Father Son and HS. During the Communion prayers we hear and recite scriptural accounts of God present as Father, the creator of everything, the Son, who is known as the word…who is our savior and our advocate… …and the Holy Spirit who moves in our worship, who carries our prayers to God, who is at once our comforter and encourager as well as our conscience.
All of them one. All of them working individually in our lives and at the same moment …all one God
It’s not an easy concept to grasp. As a matter of fact it’s impossible to grasp. Even so over the millennia people have decided to hold the God of the Universe up to the same standards of Physics and Mathematics as control the physical world. They and maybe we have decided, as rational humans, to diagram and quantify the Holy Trinity and we’ve come up with models that we can compare to our God.
We may come up with a clover. We’ll say, like St. Patrick, that the Holy Trinity is like a Shamrock. Patrick would hold up a shamrock and challenge his hearers, "Is it one leaf or three?" "It is both one leaf and three," was their reply. "And so it is with God," he would conclude. "[i] The problem is that’s it’s really not one leave in 3 its 1 leaf with 3 lobes. So the Shamrock, once you understand a shamrock leads us to Heresy. Sad isn’t it?
Check your Heresy cheat sheet…. it’s called Modalism. One God, never separate, but appearing as 3 distinct. Our God is both Single and triple at the same time. A shamrock is well, less than that.
Next we have the example of water. If you freeze water in the bottom of a test tube and then apply heat to it you will find that you have ice, water, and water vapor all at the same time. However, while this is very close it is not the same as our Lord because each distinct person of the trinity is the full embodiment of the other 2 persons of the trinity. When you meet Jesus, you are meeting God and the Holy Spirit at the same time, even though you are experiencing Christ. When you meet an ice cube you are not experiencing the properties of steam or if it’s cold enough you never see liquid water. So again we fall into heresy.
So how does the church explain the Trinity in a way that makes sense? To answer this I must first tell you that the word Trinity is not mentioned in scripture. But the Trinity, Our Lord 3 in 1 is.
I have chosen to let us hear last Sunday’s Gospel again for the very reason that our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all there.
St. John tells us about God, existing and working as 3 and yet still being 1.
Listen again: Jesus says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."
In that sentence Jesus, who is the Son, tells his disciples that there exists the Father, and the Spirit . But in the context that there is only one God.
By the 4th century AD much of the church had a good grasp on the doctrine of the Trinity. St. Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the 2 4th century bishops who fought tooth and nail for the truth of the Gospel. Listen to what he says…
“No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One. . . When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”
Gregory understood that the human mind can hold God in itself for only fleeting moments…only in tiny pieces.
We understand the vastness and multi-dimensionality of God as if we were two dimensional creatures in a photograph who, brought in contact with something or someone of 3 dimensions, can only see that the new creature is a line or a point and not something with volume, there is no way for them perceive a 3rd dimension.
It is that precise reason that God sent us His Son, Jesus so that we might know all that we need to know about God through Him. When we meet Jesus, we meet God. We understand, comprehend, and reach God through Jesus the Son. Who is a one time, fully God and fully Human.
If you are having difficulty grasping the concept you can rest assured that you are not the first to feel such cloudiness about the subject. In fact it took the church 2 centuries to hastily write down the creed we call the Apostles Creed so that at Baptisms, people would have an idea about what the Church teaches.
Then in the next few centuries the church formulated, with much struggle and debate, the familiar Creed that we call the Nicene Creed. All of the Creeds, the N the Apostles Creed and the Athanasian Creed were developed and written down to clarify what the church believes concerning the mysteries of our Lord’s work and presence in the world. They are all created by the church to combat heresy and reaffirm orthodoxy.
One group of religious trouble makers were the Arians. No not those Arians… These Arians are named for a man named Arius. Arius was a 4th Century theologian who figured that it wasn’t a nice thing to say the God the Father had a son who was His equal and eternal. That sounded to him like another God…like 2 gods. So he decided that Jesus was like a God/Human mixture. Jesus was like Hercules or Superman, in that he had God-like powers and knew God but was not God. However the truth is, what you and I need is a savior and scripture tells us that Jesus will deliver us from our Sins.
Superman can’t do that. It takes someone eternal and all powerful to redeem us; someone who is sinless, who transcends human reality. It takes Jesus, the Son of God, who IS God to make us whole and clean. It takes something from outside of our tiny, neat, and predictable world to save our lives. It takes more than what we understand… to do what is impossible.
The Arian heresy was so popular that it threatened to infect and destroy orthodoxy, by that I mean, “Truth”, throughout all of Christendom. Through much of the forth century the future of the Church of Jesus Christ was in a very precarious place because people were unwilling to face and cling to the mystery and the incomprehensible majesty that is our God as revealed through the Holy Scriptures.
It was such a problem that the leaders of the entire church gathered together to settle, once and for all what we believe about the Trinity as revealed to us through Scripture.
The heretics had concocted lesser and more understandable versions of the Messiah, because a Jesus that fits our limited conceptions and matches our limitations is much more palatable…. to some people. Bishop Alison calls this the cruelty of heresy because that kind of heresy takes a saving God out of the picture. The savior of the Arians was no savior but a powerful half-God who could not deliver.
The problem is that the cruelty of the heresy of Arianism is with us today and clearly a part of the church…Modern Arianism shares the ancient belief that Jesus was not (and thus is not) divine, but goes much further — reducing Jesus to "just a guy".
The truth is that we are uncomfortable with things or concepts that are supernatural. It is so much easier for rational, 21st century people to believe that Jesus was a good and wise man, perhaps even a prophet, but certainly not divine.[ii] It is at the root of the turmoil in our own denomination. More than that it is the root of the turmoil in the family, in marriages, in the world. If we refuse to rely on the God of the Universe who transcends what we know to be real, who works on a level and dimention that we can not comprehend then we, using our God given intellect reject the only person who can save us from permanent extinction.
Think about what it means that Jesus is eternal at the right hand of God. It means that he was present at the creation of the Universe and was part of our own creation. It means that he left paradise to pay our debt. It means that He was present at the creation of the tree that would eventually be formed into a Cross that would torture and kill him. It means that the full understanding of our human suffering, experienced by Jesus before and during the crucifixion is part of God. God understands us fully in all respects, in an empathetic way because of the human life lived by the Son.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, another ancient warrior against heresy said this about Jesus: “Indeed the mystery of Christ runs the risk of being disbelieved precisely because it is so incredibly wonderful. For God was in Humanity. He who was above all creation was in our human condition; the invisible one was made visible in the flesh; He who was free in his own nature came in the form of a slave; He who blesses all creation became accursed; He who is all righteousness was numbered among the transgressors.[iii]
When you meet someone who refuses to experience God as Father, who is Lord, Son, who is savior and redeemer, and Spirit, who moves in our lives with the fullness of God…right now…who can be a part of every word we say, every contract we make and every trial we bare…you meet some one who has no hope. They may say…my hope is in the goodness of my fellow man.
And I will say about 75 percent of the time that’s a great thing. But what about the fact that all people fail. Even the best of us will let you down. All people fall short of divinity. There is not a God among us….
The Bible says, “Put no trust in a loved one,”[iv] not because we’re not supposed to rely on family, or trusted friends fellow humans, but because trusting in God is the only way we can ever experience 100 percent reliability. 100 percent truth. 100 percent action in our best interest.
It is for that reason we are monotheists. That is we cling to the one God We believe that our God exists as one and in 3 persons… Father Son and Holy Spirit.
What does that mean for us?
For one thing it means that we serve a God who has a personal stake in our lives. Who is able to reach out us in many ways. Not only has the King of Kings touched us in our creation but He has a permanent connection to us through his Son Jesus Christ who takes away all impediment to God’s eternity. We have the Comforter, the Encourager, or as I like to call him the Holy Meddler, the HS in our lives surrounding us and filling us as if some holy wind that blows through our pain, our joys, our decisions and our personalities. We can know the God of Heaven through His Spirit.
All this…all of God’s love, all of God’s strength, all of God’s wisdom directed at us. Set to fill our lives if we, as the Bible tells us, turn our faces toward Him.
So how do you and I connect to this vast mystery…this unfathomable deity. How do you and get this massive supernatural being to even give us the time of day? That is the great part. Because the God of the Universe wants us to be in relationship with Him. It is His desire that we would forsake all other idols, all other Gods to center our lives on him. We can talk to Him. We can listen to Him. We can be filled with Him. We can bring Him to others. And through his Son we can carry him with us whereever we go. The huge God of the Cosmos is willing and desiring to walk through our mundane lives with us daily. To lead us, to gift us, and to bless us. That is the wonder and the importance of the Triune God.
We connect with our Lord through honest worship. We connect and experience our Lord through honest and heartfelt prayer. We connect, experience and are enriched by our Lord by reading and studying His word in the Holy Scriptures. It’s as simple as that. And simple is what God is all about. Jesus said, My Yoke is easy and my burden is light. Loving God, walking in the light of God is not Rocket science. It’s a piece of cake. All we need to is say yes. Yes to God… God the Father who is our creator and made us to be loved and to love. God the Son, who felt what we feel, who walked on our land, and who died so that we might live, and God the Holy Spirit, who walks with us today in this hour, who makes us holy, who gives us grace and healing and who comforts and encourages and inspires.
You and I can take time to dig and dig into the mystery of the Trinity. We can spend hours, days and weeks trying to figure out which model is closest to the truth of the Trinity and who is a heretic… but as CS Lewis wrote in his work “Mere Christianity” You may ask, 'if we cannot imagine a three-personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?' Well, there isn't any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time – [this morning], if you like.[v]
1. Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, IVP, 2002
2. Mere Christianity
3. The Cruelty of Heresy
[iii] Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, IVP, 2002
[iv] Micah 7:5 RSV
[v] CS Lewis: Mere Christianity
© David M. Dubay June 11, 2006